The Power of Informational Interviews
It must have been the hundredth job I applied to in a year and I still had no responses. I was submitting the applications with no errors, putting down names of people that recommended me, ripped apart and restructured my resume, and included the same key words from the job posting in my cover letter. What was I doing wrong?
The lack of responses can feel like even more of a struggle when you are slightly unsure of what it is you really want.
If you feel like this is you, I promise you are not alone. In today's world where everyone is more competitive, educated, working on the weekends, and socially savvy, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate yourself. The good news is there is a way to figure out those nuances and get your dream job: informational interviews.
An often overlooked and underestimated approach, these informal discussions with others in roles you want to learn more about can really assist you in your job search.
Here’s how informational interviews helped me.
Coming from a sales background, I always wanted to get into higher education and thought that admissions would be the perfect segue into that industry. It took me longer than I wanted and expected to get there, but eventually I secured a role as an Admissions Counselor. I moved up, learned some skills, enrolled in a Master of Higher Education Administration program, and thought things would 'work themselves out.' Boy, was I wrong!
After four years working in Admissions and obtaining my M.Ed., I still was nowhere closer to determining the 'magic bullet' in terms of a role and career path. I eventually decided to ask for help.
I contacted my university's Career Office and made an appointment to get some advice. I hoped that they would tell me what I was good at and what the perfect job for me would be. As I've learned in life, nothing is free and nothing is easy without some work. That being said, my career counselor said, "Have you tried conducting informational interviews?"
I looked at her strangely and said something to the effect of "Uh, no?"
She told me this technique was particularly helpful for those who had a general career outlook but not sure about what unique roles existed or how to get started finding out more.
She mentioned to do the following:
- Ask friends, colleagues and family or do a Google search for roles your industry of interest and take note of what strikes you as interesting
- Examine the roles that you are especially unfamiliar with and search those roles in your area
- Find out the names of employees who hold those positions and obtain their email addresses
- Send emails to them explaining who you are and why you are seeking to learn more about their role - Keep it short and simple
- You may not get everyone to respond, but usually people are willing to talk about what they do to people who seem genuinely interested. Don't mention or ask for a job with them - just get the conversation started!
As soon as I left that day, I gave this method a try. I honestly didn't expect to get many responses, but lo and behold, I heard back! A few were indeed willing to talk and were even nice about it!
I learned several things in my informational interviews:
- The original role I was seeking for my career wasn't exactly what I wanted as I learned more about it
- I discovered a different role that was much more suitable for me which I hadn't heard of before my informational interviews
Ultimately, a mix of these interviews and networking led me to where I am today. I am happy, fulfilled, and am so glad that I took the time to do some research, ask questions, seek help and advice, and keep trying.
This method may not work for everyone every time, but I highly suggest testing it out if you haven't done so already. It sounds strange, but a simple email wanting to have a conversation can go a long way.
Good luck and don't give up!
Vanessa Bush, M.Ed. is the Senior Assistant Director of Enrollment Services at Northeastern University in Boston. She actively works on creating and implementing enrollment strategies for a select number of programs by examining pipeline activity of applicants and leads as well as marketing and recruitment efforts. In addition to working in Admissions for two other private colleges in Boston prior to Northeastern, she also has extensive experience in educational travel sales and enjoyed visiting international destinations around the globe. In her spare time, Vanessa volunteers on the Alumni Committee for her alma mater, enjoys writing and publishing her poetry, and traveling to Europe with her husband. Next up - Iceland!